Monday, October 22, 2007

The Real Iraq We Knew-- A view from 12 former Army Captains

This is an interesting Washington Post article about how soldiers on the ground feel about what they're doing in Iraq. Finally the mainstream media is questioning the government's management of the war and a realistic view of the future.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Car Bomb

Evan phoned yesterday from Iraq, a rare occurrence, because he usually calls on the weekend. His work schedule, as always is unpredictable. It had been an easy, but boring day because his unit had been on the emergency response duty. He was upset because the day before, a car bomber wiped out a checkpoint run by one of the little local militia units that were being trained by Evan’s unit. It wasn’t the exact group his squad worked with, but they were close.

Evan said he felt the huge explosion while in his barracks and knew it was something huge. His squad rushed to the scene, but nothing was left—no car, no guard shack, no barriers, just a big hole in the road. Five young men were killed. It must have been beyond horrible.

The U.S. troops vowed to return right away with materials to build a new checkpoint, and re-double their training efforts. There are ways to avoid bombs at checkpoints, but making a mistake in procedure can be fatal. The Iraqis need that extra important training. It is so sad to see your good work destroyed by nihilists.

Yesterday, The New York Times published an intense article about an extremist jihadi, Samir Khan, who lives right here in Charlotte and runs a jihadi website that includes links to videos of car bomb explosions on the Internet, placed to entertain and attract potential “martyrs”. These videos are cut like music videos and are dedicated to some god, not Allah, for sure. Khan, born in Saudi-Arabia, home of most of the 9/11gang, grew up in the U.S. and lives with his parents in a middle class home in Charlotte. I hope somebody gets hold of him before he gets his wish to become a martyr himself soon.

I’m sure the families of the five young militia men who put their lives on the line to help stop the rampage of criminal gangs in Iraq would like to get hold of Mr. Samir Khan too.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Young Afghan Journalists Receiving Death Threats

Amin Wahidi, 25 year old journalist, filmmaker, and free-speech advocate was recently granted refugee status in Italy after attending the Venice International Film Festival and participating in a Summer School on Cinema and Human Rights at the European Inter-university Center for Human Rights and Democratization. He is currently living in a refugee shelter in Milan, Italy.

Wahidi has spent his whole life in Afghanistan, but after recent numerous death threats has decided to remain in Italy. A series of comments left on Wahidi’s blog from a self-proclaimed Taliban said a suicide bomber would meet Wahidi’s plane when it landed in Kabul. His family recently fled Kabul due to similar threats against them.

Wahidi’s experience is but one example of a widening pattern of violence against young Afghan media workers and journalists. It is part of an alarming relapse back to the days of the Taliban and warlords. Young activists are facing increasing violence and censorship—some from within the U.S. supported Afghan government. They have been threatened, arrested, jailed, kidnapped, had their studios vandalized, and been beaten.

Several young media personalities, including women, have been murdered in the past three years. This year, two have been killed, and they are held up as examples of what will happen to others who attempt to speak out. As a result, many educated, creative media people are fleeing Afghanistan, making it easier for the violent fundamentalists and criminal gangs to have their way.

Though fearing for his safety, Wahidi wants to tell the true story of how Afghanistan is slipping backwards, despite the efforts of many concerned countries and organizations such as NATO, the U.S., and the UN. Like many Afghans, he feels these efforts are insufficient and that Afghanistan is being forgotten by the world once again.

In the short term, Wahidi wants to come to the U.S. to finish his university education, and make films and documentaries about conditions in Afghanistan. He also wants to be a lifeline to colleagues remaining in Afghanistan through the Afghan Academy of Arts and Cinema Education and The Filmmakers Union of Afghanistan. Most important, he wants to return to Afghanistan to work for re-building a democratic, just, and productive society there. His primary interest is to make films on the difficulty of establishing freedom of expression, justice, and human rights in his country.

In early 2005, Wahidi was hired as one of the first writer/producer/director/presenters at the new Ariana Television and Radio Network (ATN), based in Kabul. It was the first independent network to broadcast across Afghanistan, and quickly added coverage via satellite to North America, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and across South Asia to the Pacific.

Wahidi produced and hosted three concurrent television programs for ATN: a magazine-style news series on world cinema, an English language instructional series, and a cultural history series focusing on music. He also worked in network promotion and was the assistant programmer for a time. After leaving ATN in 2007, he worked in the production and news departments of two other Afghan broadcast networks, Nureen and Farda.

Prior to working in broadcast, Wahidi developed strong English language skills. In 2004 he was a lead translator/interpreter for the U.S. Army’s Office of Military Co-operation for Afghanistan, in Kabul. He has worked for other translation companies, able to conduct simultaneous English/Farsi-Dari interpretations and document translation.

Wahidi’s ethnic background is Hazara, a consistently persecuted Afghan minority. His father, a Hazara activist, has been arrested and threatened for organizing demonstrations and speaking out against mistreatment of not just Hazara, but all Afghans.

After the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, there was hope for Afghanistan. Cinemas re-opened, Independent TV and radio stations went on the air, scores of newspapers and magazines began to publish, art galleries and performance spaces became active, schools opened, and women returned to work in media, education, healthcare, and government. The country which had endured 30 years of brutal occupation and civil war began to breathe again, a situation especially welcomed by a young generation eager to join the modern world. Now these gains are losing ground, and this sad story is almost invisible to the American public.

Any assistance to help Wahidi reach his goals will be greatly appreciated.

See more about Amin Wahidi and subscribe to his blog at

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A cow is a lion in Iraq

Evan sent this story through Beth:

Evan's patrol was investigating an area after an explosion and came upon a small barn-- more like a shed. Inside was a cow; a very disturbed cow, and who could blame her? A bomb had just gone off. She became more agitated, as Evan and a buddy looked around to see if any dangerous stuff was hidden under the dirt.

The cow suddenly became aggressive, and the soldiers thought it might be better to retreat a little. A staff sergeant, seeing them back out of the barn shouted,

"Hey you guys, it's a cow, not a lion!"

At that very moment the enraged cow leapt over its pen and charged the staff sergeant. He turned and ran up the outside stairs of a nearby house. The angry cow stood below, trapping the hapless sergeant on the roof.

Fortunately, one of the soldiers had a camera and photographed the standoff. Unfortunately, for the sergeant, they were duplicated back at the base and posted in several obvious places with the caption "It's a cow, not a lion!"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A friend flees Afghanistan

A young writer/producer friend in Afghanistan was invited to the Venice Film Festival last month. Because of escalating death threats against him and his family from Taliban in Afghanistan, he has decided it would be safer to stay in Italy. He is living as a refugee there now, contemplating his next steps.

Please read part of his story sent to me last night. It's a long piece, but an amazing piece of writing:

Friday, October 05, 2007

The mysterious man in the trunk

An interesting story from Evan a few weeks ago. His unit has a fair to adequate relationship with the local residents of the area he patrols. They are training a small local militia group, mainly in road checkpoint management 101. One day a group of their young trainees ran up breathlessly saying they had a surprise. They led the soldiers to a car and opened the trunk. Inside was one of the more dangerous local trouble-makers, whom they had somehow managed to recognize and capture.

The militiamen were very proud they caught the fellow. They locked him in the trunk, since it was the only way they had to hold him. I wonder if they’ve been given handcuffs yet. It can get mighty hot in a trunk.

The militia are paid a small amount to keep them steadily working, but there is a sliding reward scale if they provide information or capture a wanted criminal. They were especially happy to deliver this guy who had a higher than average price.

This is a much more community-friendly counter-insurgency tactic than Blackwater’s style of doing business, for example.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Poor Afghanistan- now "The Kite Runner" movie is a problem

A brewing problem demonstrating modern cultural conflicts between East and West. Read this article in today's New York Times. You'll have to copy and past the link below.